Encryption is the process of encoding information. It is most commonly associated with computers but has been in use since ancient times to hide the true meaning of messages. The tombs of ancient Egyptian kings have been found to contain encrypted messages that would have required special decryption keys to decipher. The enigma code – a Nazi military encrypted language – was famously cracked by the founder of modern computing Alan Turing during World War Two.
Today, encryption and decryption are widely used in computing, espionage, and business. Here are a few important examples.
File Transfer Protocol
File Transfer Protocols are the ‘rules’ computers use to communicate and exchange files with servers. Keeping computer systems safe from hackers involves the encryption of files as they travel to and from servers. Encrypted ‘tunnels’ are formed – only the correct server or computer can decrypt files exchanged through them.
FTP is slightly outdated – having originated in the 1970s before the advent of the internet and evolved surprisingly little. A more secure evolution is the SSH File Transfer Protocol, which adheres to the SSH 2.0 protocol standards. Find out more about these standards over at https://www.goanywhere.com/managed-file-transfer/file-server/sftp-server.
Keep Alan Turing rather than James Bond in mind when thinking about encryption and decryption in espionage. Possibly the biggest espionage encryption and decryption scheme ever was pulled off by the CIA.
Crypto AG was a leading Swiss manufacturer of cryptography machines. It sold machines to over 120 countries, which used them to encrypt messages of high national security value. Little did Crypto AG clients know that the company was actually owned by the CIA, who were able to then read a staggering number of secret messages. From 1970 onwards, American agents had complete control over the cryptography equipment of hundreds of adversaries and allies.
Data is vulnerable when stored on computers or on remote servers. No matter how secure a system is, hackers will always be in the position to innovate in order to compromise security. Encryption is the last line of defense for sensitive files. So long as files are encrypted, and the encryption method is sound, stolen files will be useless in the hands of the wrong people. Data encryption has also been used by nefarious actors. The WannaCry bug, made by North Korean hackers, encrypted data on infected computers and demanded a ransom in return for a decryption key.
Privacy is a fragile thing. Human beings conduct a great deal of their private communication on the internet. Instant messaging services are immensely popular, but they have traditionally been vulnerable to breaches of privacy. Government agencies, hackers, and all sorts of malicious actors have all proven capable of snooping in on private messages. This has led to a demand for the end-to-end encryption of instant messages. Huge service providers such as WhatsApp claim to encrypt messages. Unfortunately, WhatsApp still shares metadata about messages with its parent company Facebook. Other services like Telegram claim to keep the content of messages completely private.